Failure to hold hearing keeps Wood's license valid - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Failure to hold hearing kept Wood's license valid


MADISON (WKOW) -- State department of transportation officials failed to hold a required hearing into an appeal of state lawmaker Jeff Wood's planned license suspension after a drunk driving arrest, allowing Wood's suspension to be vacated without a shred of evidence.

Wood's license was scheduled to be suspended after Wood tested above Wisconsin's blood alcohol limit of .08 during his arrest for suspected third offense drunk driving in Columbia County in December 2008.

Bureau of driver services director Taqwanya Smith told 27 News the timing of Wood's arrest contributed to the failure to hold the appeal hearing within a required thirty days.

"In December, with the holidays, it was a tight time frame for scheduling."

"The hearing process should take place,"   Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) told 27 News.

"We should not allow people the third time driving while under the influence to just get a pass by allowing the appeal process to expire."

Transportation department officials said in 2009, 364 suspensions were vacated as the result of an appeal.   But officials were unable to identify how many of those vacated suspensions resulted from failure to hold a hearing, as in Wood's case.

"I think it brings to light just the possible loopholes that are existing within the department of transportation,"   Mothers Against Drunk Driving state policy director Frank Harris told 27 News.

Harris said currently proposed reforms to Wisconsin drunk driving laws include additional funding for the department of transportation.   Harris said those funds could help increase department staffing for suspension hearing purposes.  

In 2009, 3,473 hearings took place.   In 90% of those cases, suspensions were upheld.

Nass questioned the motivation for failing to hold a hearing into Wood's suspension appeal.

"It raises the issue of special treatment because representative Wood is a legislator."

Driver license suspensions in operating while intoxicated cases are for six months.   Wood had two subsequent OWI arrests after his Columbia County arrest.   But even if Wood's license had been suspended, it would have been eligible for reinstatement before the later arrests.

Despite Wood's additional OWI arrests in September and October,  Wood's license remains valid.

Transportation department official Erin Egan said the suspension process in connection with Wood's additional OWI arrests has not begun because officials have yet to receive results on the level of prescription drugs in Wood's system at the time of those arrests.

Driver license suspensions are administrative actions.   Wood faces criminal charges in three different counties.   Lawmakers are also considering expelling Wood from the state assembly.





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